It is an exciting time to be a CrossFitter. The CrossFit Games are underway, which gives us all a chance to watch the fittest athletes in our community push the boundaries of what we think is possible. As of writing this post, we have seen women Snatch above 200 pounds, and men move over 1000 pounds of strongman implements coupled with handstand walks. What happens in Madison is incredible and really no different from what takes place within the walls of our own gym at home. You may have forgotten that the average person does not go to the gym and flip upside down on to their hands and proceed to then lift their bodyweight off of the ground. It is good to have perspective that even though you might not be throwing down with the best in Madison, you do truly amazing things everyday you walk into CrossFit Bangor. Perspective, while important, is not the theme of this post. This week’s addition to the CrossFit Bangor journal is about the mental side of fitness.
While watching the CrossFit Games, it is easy to see how unbelievable the athletes are on a physical level. What is not so obvious, is how strong the athletes are mentally. Just to be able to step out onto the competition floor in front of thousands of people watching in the stands and thousands more watching online, is a outstanding display of mental strength. Even more impressive are those who are able to stay composed long enough to end up on the podium. Most likely none of you have the goal of making it to the CrossFit Games, let alone to be one of the top three, but that does not mean there is not something that we can take from that champion mindset and apply it to our own lives, both physically and personally.
In my opinion, mental strength is a union of courage, patience and confidence. These three mental components, similar to the physical skills of CrossFit (metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, and weightlifting), work best when we have some capacity in all and not just one. We will start with the mental skill I think is the most important in getting you started on your path towards whatever goal you may have.
:mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
Looking back to my first post, “Five Things to Know When Starting CrossFit”, courage is required to execute “Just Start”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that courage is the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”, which is something that is asked of CrossFitters every day, regardless of whether it is their first workout or their 100th. You better believe that the eerie sound of the clock counting down to zero still gives me a rush of anxiety to this day.
Courage is a muscle that needs to be built and maintained. A great way to exercise this muscle is by pushing your limits on a regular basis. CrossFit and your every day life give you unlimited opportunities to build this skill but most of us choose to avoid them because, well it is hard and scary and we do not like the unknown. Making the decision to go to the gym instead of heading home after work requires courage. Or taking the extra step to put your food on a scale before your plate, requires courage. Pushing yourself a little harder during the last 30 seconds of a workout instead of slowing down, requires courage. And I say that it requires courage (among other things), because these decisions go against the norm. How uncomfortable is it to turn down coworkers for after work drinks or tell your spouse that you suddenly want to weigh your food at every meal? And what about failure? Some people fear really going for things because of failure and there perceived humiliation. What if I still miss the lift? What if other people see me fail? All of these opportunities to make the above decisions, happen every day. Courage is about persevering despite uncertainty. Courage is making healthy (sometimes unpopular) decisions despite what others may think. Courage is walking across the gym to high five someone you do not know after a workout. Both CrossFit and your life give you these chances to be courageous.
You know what the best part is? These choices are going to keep coming up, every day, which means that it is never too late to make the right choices for you; you just have to be willing to try and exercise a little courage.
:the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
I love the definition of patience. I love it so much that I am going to make you read it again: “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset”. Courage is required to start, but patience is crucial to continue down the path.
I want to start with “delay”. Delay is a component of anything that is good in life. A career, fitness, or skill is not developed without a good amount of delay. It takes years of work, courage, and patience to end up on the podium of the CrossFit Games or to accomplish a life goal.
Life is certainly not problem free. You have likely already (or will) encountered some sort of trouble today whether it be in the form of traffic or the realization that you forgot your gym shoes at home. On the surface, these are merely inconveniences but when broken down are opportunities to practice patience.
Suffering and CrossFit are pretty much best friends. Yet what many do not realize is that CrossFit is not the one dealing out the suffering, it is you. When you do a workout, it is not the workout pushing you to your limits or the workout causing you pain because YOU are the one that is in full control. For example, Fran (a couplet of thrusters and pull ups) can be completed in one hour with plenty of water breaks and rest, or it can be done in three minutes leaving you on the floor while other members mop sweat up off the floor around you. The intensity is a decision that is entirely up to you. The difference is having the courage to choose the latter and the patience to work towards carrying it out.
:a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances; the quality or state of being certain
Confidence is the final piece that I believe is involved in a successful and healthy mindset. Confidence can often be the key component between success and failure. The problem is that confidence does not come naturally to some of us and is a state of mind that is foreign to many. I am sure we would all like there to be a switch in our brains that we could just flip and suddenly become confident, and suddenly shed our fears and insecurities. Unfortunately, it does take some mental effort but you can work on developing confidence right now.
I believe that confidence is developed by making the conscious effort to change the way you think about yourself and by how you behave. Confidence is earned in a way. I expect that a lot of you think this way too, but you believe that confidence will come in the form of six packs and top spots on leaderboards. You have attached confidence as a reward for accomplishing a goal, that you will believe in yourself more AFTER you obtain whatever it is your are aiming for. But real confidence, confidence that is not attached or dependent on anything else, is earned by having the courage to do what frightens you and the patience to put in work everyday regardless of delay, trouble or suffering. By doing these things and consciously believing in yourself, you will build confidence in yourself that you can persevere and withstand adversaries, that you can count on yourself to do the right thing and make the right decisions at every opportunity that life brings you. Have confidence in that doing the right thing, is always the right thing.
Putting It All Together
I am going to end this post with an example of this mindset being put into practice and how it can make the difference between success and failure. In the CrossFit Documentary, “The Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness”, there was a female athlete who by the third day was slated to win gold. Tia-Claire Toomey, an athlete from Australia, entered the final day of the competition wearing the Leader’s Jersey, a shirt that indicates that they are currently in first place. On the final day, she was taking photographs with fans and was filmed stating to her fan, “You’ll probably want to delete that by the end of the day”. Tia did not believe that she could win gold. I wanted to point this out specifically because, even the top CrossFit Games athletes struggle with moments of self-doubt and lack of confidence. The deflated self-confidence became more apparent as that final day went on and Tia went on to win the silver medal instead of gold.
Not many of us will know what it feels like to be stopped in the street by a fan asking for a picture, but we all know what it feels like to have that moment of lack of self-confidence that was obvious in her voice that day. Would the result have been different if Tia had truly believed that she could rely on herself to execute and win? We cannot really know but it is easy to assume that it could not have hurt. As I write this, Tia is in a very similar situation; Tia is currently sitting in first place on the last day of the competition. I believe something has changed for Tia this year and I hope this very talented athlete ends on the podium again, maybe this time on the top. I also hope that you can take something away from this post that will help you end up on your own personal podium. Whether in fitness or life I hope you have the courage to act, the patience to keep going, and the confidence to succeed.
Until next week…
Edited by Sarah Eden
You can read a book in one of two ways. The first, is how I have read books for most of my life (until recently), which is by reading to finish the book as quickly as possible. As if, just the act of finishing the book was the accomplishment. Staring at my bookshelf one day, I read the title of each book and tried to think about what I had taken away from each one. What did I learn? How am I better now because of reading it? I was shocked to find that I barely remembered reading some of them or at best, could only come up with one takeaway from the exhaustive list of titles now cluttering up my shelves. After this realization, I vowed to read books differently. I wanted to truly enjoy and soak up every chapter, page and letter from what I was reading; this is the second way to read a book.
The “second way of reading” is a perspective that can be applied again and again towards most of the things we consume. We play our favorite song repeatedly, memorizing every verse and beat. The best movies have our full attention, completely absorbed in how the story line unfolds, keeping us entranced and allow us to escaped from the outside world, only to throw us right back out once the credits roll. As humans, we love or even live to build. We build families, careers, businesses, and experiences... the list is endless. As you read this right now you are in the middle of your own journey, building whatever might be most important to you in this moment. You might be 25 and just starting to build your career or maybe you are 65, and about to retire and build experiences and relationships with your grandchildren. No matter who you are or where you are, you are building, growing, and moving forward towards something.
Just like a book, life and fitness can be approached in two ways. Unfortunately, I think you know which way a lot of people go about each. As a CrossFit trainer, I spend my days watching people march along their fitness journey. Each week I meet someone new who is eager to start their journey and each week I see many of these individuals reading to finish the book instead of enjoying every page. Unfortunately, unlike a book, fitness has no last page. You will (or should) be trying to improve your fitness in some capacity for the rest of your life. When you realize that fitness is a lifelong journey and not necessarily a means to an end, you can see how trying to enjoy and appreciate every minute of it would make sense. Imagine for a moment that I handed you a magical book that grew in length every time you read a page. With no end in sight and no place to rush to, how would you start reading then?
Fitness as it stands now is plagued with 30 day fixes. The industry has created this mindset that fitness has an end date. Once completed, a fitness plaque would arrive in the mail and you could display it proudly in your living room like a high school letterman jacket. In reality, fitness is never completely achieved and will always require more work to be done. This may sound defeating but I would argue the opposite. Humans love and live to build. That is why video games are so addicting to young people. It is the thrill of leveling up and the thrill of the journey. Even mythology is designed around this idea. It is the hero’s struggle, perseverance, and sometimes unrecognizable progress that enthralls us the most; it is not the end that is the most glorious or riveting to us. It is the climb. Humans thrive off of purpose. Purpose gives us a reason to live, a reason to keep going. Yet so many people walk through the doors of the gym and immediately feel defeated because they believe that they have yet to reach this mystical state of “fitness”; an industry produced static, devoid of growth, and stagnant place of being that does not exist. We base our self worth on our position on the leaderboard or the number of abs we see in the mirror when what we should be focusing on is something without a number at all, like heart and hustle.
What will make this experience the most fulfilling and successful is the realization that it is the climb that is the most enjoyable, not the summit. This premise, is demonstrated in process and completion of goals. We spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to reach our goal and when we finally get there, the moment passes by and we quickly have a new goal in our sights. Often, too little or no credit is given to the growth you just accomplished while obtaining your goal because you have already set your mind on the next goal, the next thing you cannot do, and the place you are not. If only you realized that all of your days are spent in “the process” of reaching that “place” and more credit was given to that portion of the journey, then maybe you would not be so worried about where you are not, yet.
For those that know me well, you have probably heard me say this a hundred times, but I will repeat it again because I believe it will always be relevant; you can either do something or you can do nothing, and if you do nothing you will never get anywhere. If you are discouraged, angry, pissed off, and disappointed that you are not where you think you should be, please take a second and realize that if you are reading this article then you are in the “doing something camp”. The important aspect you may be missing, is that your are undervaluing the doing part. This part is the one you will spend the majority of your life in, so shouldn’t you enjoy it? Appreciate it? Value the effort you have put into it?
You can workout in one of two ways. The first, is by checking the box. Working out for the sake of saying that you worked out, like reading to have as big of bookshelf as possible. The second way is showing up early to “warm up” with friends, giving it your all during the work out, dishing out sweaty high fives and yelps of encouragement to your fellow athletes, and hanging around afterwards because the gym is the best part or your day. You would not want this part to end and if it did, you would have wished that you enjoyed the part in the middle a little more.
So what is the point? It is simple. Enjoy the process, because it never ends. Judge yourself on things that actually matter, like how you treat yourself and other people. Value effort over your waistline. Remember why you started CrossFit in the first place and if it was not to win the CrossFit Games, then who cares how much your squat is! Can you pick up your grandkids when you are 80? That is something worth caring about!
Until next week…
Edited by: Sarah Eden
What this post is not…
I’m not going to tell you what to eat or how much. I’m not going to go into depth about macro and micro nutrients. I’m not going to talk about Paleo, Zone, Whole30, or RP templates. You could read for months about all of those with just a few clicks and google searches. What I will do is give you a practical guide on how to navigate the outrageous amount of information out there, and how to make food work for you. All of the information you are about to read is one hundred percent based on my own experiences which you can chose to apply to your own life or not. This is not a substitution for medical advice or advice you receive from a licensed professional.
First Things First…
Like most of you, I have battled with food and body image my entire life. I have spent the majority of my life worrying about how I look and how others view me. I have tried more nutrition philosophies than I care to admit, though it ranges from vegetarianism all the way to strict Paleo. But none of them seemed to work for me and until recently, I had no idea why. In the past, I would blame the program or philosophy itself. I had this idea in my mind that there was only one answer to the food question, that one of them had to be right, and that I just had to try as many as I could until I found THE ONE. This is something I spoke about in my last post and the is the first lesson in my Guide to Nutrition.
The first lesson is simple, you must Have Patience. The word “patience”, even as I write it, makes me cringe. In my opinion, patience is one of the hardest skills to acquire, especially in a world of instant access that technology has brought us. Unfortunately, eating well for one day will reap zero visual results. Similarly, doing squats one time will not give you a PR squat the next day. It takes weeks, months, even years to see tangible results. One day of change does not make a habit, which applies to more than just food. Patience and a more comprehensive perspective on training (and probably most things in life) is what I believe will bring results. There is not ONE right answer. You can find success in multiple nutritional philosophies but you just have to have consistency with one of them long enough to see results.
The second lesson in this guide is DO. This is certainly not the first piece of writing you have read about food and I bet that you have also watched videos on YouTube, read a couple books/magazines, asked a trainer about it, or have clicked through on Facebook or Instagram links regarding nutrition. For the most part, we have all seen the same information repeated over and over and if I asked you right now what you should be eating, I’m fairly confident you would all be able to give me very similar answers. The difference between success and failure, is whether or not you take what you have learned and apply it to your life. In my experience, I have found that a lot of people will simply take in information but never use it. Everyone has reasons why they haven’t done anything yet. But you don’t need a Monday, you don’t need the 1st of the month or the New Year or to wait for after some event to take place. I prefer the word DO over the word START because, technically, you’ve already started. You did the research. You’re reading this post. But you need to apply your knowledge. Put into practice which ever philosophy you decide, and apply it the next time you eat. Once you DO, then go back to lesson one and have the patience to keep it going every time you go grocery shopping and every time you eat.
The Next Step…
Now that we are doing and being consistent about it, the next step is to identify if the philosophy you initially picked is working for you. Over several weeks or months, gather some data on weight change, body composition, performance in the gym, general mood, etc. Are you going in the right direction? If yes, stick with it, continue to gather data and reassess in a few more months. If not, then take the good, kick the bad, and adjust. The two things that I look at when designing my personal nutrition plan is the following:
Is it sustainable? This question is extremely important. If the way you eat makes you hate food or doesn't work with your lifestyle/schedule then change it. You need to pick something that you can see yourself sticking with for the rest of your life.
Does it make me happy? The worst advice I ever got when it comes to food was told to me when I was very young, they said, “If it taste good, spit it out”. That quote, in one sentence, explains why the majority of diets don't work. This idea that you have to be miserable to be healthy or lean is completely false. It’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time, but that does not and should not come at the expense of your happiness. More on this later.
What you don't want to hear…
You can be very successful if you put into practice everything I have written up to this point. Pick a plan, put it into practice, be patient, gather data, and adjust. This is a great place to start, and for most, this is where you will stay for the rest of your life. Do that and you are doing better nutritionally than the majority of the people you interact with every day.
However, if your goals require more precision and optimization, then there is one more thing that you can add in to the above information. It’s something that I have avoided talking about thus far, because it is easily the hardest thing to implement and be consistent with due to the fact that it can become all-consuming. Nevertheless, it has changed the game for me.
Weigh and measure your food. That sentence is one that I used to skim over, or roll my eyes at because it does not seem as though it could be sustainable or fun. It was never a concept that I gave two seconds of my time to. It was only after some self-reflection that I realized it might be the only thing I had not tried. When I finally dove head first into weighing and measuring my food, I finally found the results I was looking for. This step is not for everyone. This step is for those who want to have more control over their food, for those who want more exact data on how quantities of food affect them, and the ability to make more precise adjustments.
How I make food work for me…
I am a huge fan of simple. I believe that we overcomplicate fitness and our food to the point of paralysis by analysis. I firmly believe that doing is the only way to get results. Here’s a quick summary of my personal nutrition plan which is mostly guided by CrossFit’s recommendations:
- Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar (most of the time).
- The above foods in quantities that support exercise and not body fat.
- Weigh and measure all food, gather data, and adjust accordingly to my goals.
Adjusting your food can be tricky. Knowing what to adjust and how much, takes time and practice. I primarily adjust my carbs and fats. Protein is always at one gram per pound of body weight no matter if my goal is to gain or lose weight. Carbs will vary depending on the amount I train. I let this variance in carbs happen naturally, for example on days I train a lot, you can guess that I tend to be more hungry, so I bump up my carbs a little. Whereas, on days I take a rest day, I will eat much less in general, so my carbs will be lower. If I am in a phase of gaining weight, I am more generous with the amount of carbs I eat and don’t worry about the number as long as I am eating healthy carbs (i.e. potatoes and fruits). During phases of weight loss or competition season, I will try to manage those carbs more closely. Of the three macro nutrients, I have found that for me, fats have the greatest effect on my body composition. My fats will vary similarly to my carbs depending on what my goals are. I have to watch these numbers more closely, letting this number get too high will lead to very fast and unwanted weight gain.
Adjusting is very much individual to each person. What works for me, might not work for you. For example, your body may be more sensitive to carbs than fats. Learning which macro nutrients and which foods in those categories effect you the most, is very important. It’s okay to experiment with lots of food and different macro nutrient ratios! If you notice a trend that you do not want, adjust it. Remember there is no one right answer. Each person must find their optimal levels. Before moving on to the final section, keep in mind that I do not track my food all the time. There are times during the year where I let myself eat by feel. This is something I can do because I have been doing this long enough to know how my body feels when it is missing something or what 100g of a particular food looks like without weighing it. This also does not mean I go off the rails and eat red hot dogs and cake all day. It’s still based on the three primary guidelines that I have set for myself, only with a few more privileges.
Do and Don’t…
I want to leave you with this last thought. There is one thing that trumps everything when it comes to food. No matter what you eat, how much you eat, if you weigh and measure or not, the most important thing is does it make you happy? Some weeks I weigh and measure my food and hit my macros exactly, and others I eat whatever I want (within reason). This ebb and flow of doing and not, keeps me sane and happy. You have to find balance between one extreme or another. Be comfortable with wherever you are at on that spectrum. Eat well, train hard, and enjoy.
Thank you, guys, for reading! If you are hungry for more specific information I have linked content produced by individuals who are more highly educated in nutrition than myself and who dive deeper into this topic. If you click one or even all of these links, please do me a favor; when you are done consuming, start doing! Doing is the only way you will get to where you want to be.
Until next week,
CrossFit Nutrition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O6XV-5kYUU
Avoiding Disease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK86W8Ls5nY&t=34s
Optimizing Performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKz6GfUGVlo
Simple Nutrition Part 1: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/ecnutrition-01.tpl
Simple Nutrition Part 2: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/ec-nutrition-2.tpl
Simple Nutrition Part 3: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/ecnutrition-03.tpl
Simple Nutrition Part 4: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/ec-4.tpl
Simple Nutrition Part 5: http://journal.crossfit.com/2012/07/simple-nutrition-part-5.tpl
“I’m going to start CrossFit, but I’m going to get in shape first.” These words have been spoken by friends and loved ones of virtually every member at Crossfit Bangor. The comment is usually followed by an internal (or completely obvious) eye roll from the recipient. To CrossFitters this concept seems as ridiculous as someone saying they are going to start a book by reading the last page first. There is no magical moment where fitness lives. It’s not as clear cut as changing your relationship status from “single” to “In a relationship.” Fitness, or being in shape, lives very much in the “its complicated” area. The best thing you can do when starting CrossFit is START! After that, the rest will fall into place but if you’re like most people and need a little more then, “Just start!” then keep reading.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
You did it and signed up for a Free Class. You even mustered up the confidence to walk into the building. You can hear DMX blaring in the background. Barbells are being dropped. A coach at the front of the room yells out, “1 minute left!” and you start to question your decision and not to mention, the sanity of the people around you. Class starts and it’s full of confusion, moments of panic, and ends with you in a sweaty mess on the floor. As you lay there, 10 strangers with calloused hands come over to high five you and say, “Nice job!”.
Your first CrossFit class and the four beginner classes (a process called On Ramp) are very uncomfortable. Both mentally and physically, you will be push harder than you have ever allowed yourself to go. This discomfort, this pushing of your personal limits, is where results live. The grind is where members find camaraderie. You share in the struggle and bond in the battle of each workout. Soon the discomfort goes from a stimulus you have avoided at all cost to a badge of honor you wear proudly in CrossFit Bangor Black and Red.
Your success in the very beginning stages of your CrossFit experience is learning to love discomfort. If you can get through the first few weeks of awkward moments of confusion and introductions, you will be home free to the results you are looking for.
So you finished On Ramp, your first couple CrossFit workouts, and experienced what it’s like to work so hard that you “tasted colors”. The first three months is easily the most important moment of time in your CrossFit life. Do the best you can to pick a class that you can come to consistently, make it a habit that you are not allowed to skip, and start building relationships with the members along side you in your class. The members that top the Committed Club (a list of members that come 12 times a month or more) every single month usually reside in a specific class and have made bonds with those amongst that class. Not to say that there aren't members that float from class to class that are very consistent, but the habit of attending the same class every day breeds a lot of benefits.
Whether or not you pick a specific class or float around the schedule, continuing to come consistently every week will be one of the greatest factors of success in your fitness. You have already committed the time to finish the beginners course. Give yourself the opportunity to get comfortable in the uncomfortable and continue to grow your skills in all the aspects that CrossFit includes.
Food Above All Else
The founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, has a great analogy for the relationship of nutrition and physical activity that sums up this tip perfectly. He states, “A fitness program is worthless unless it has a diet and nutrition end.” He goes on to say that the separation of nutrition and exercise is like trying to be right or left handed swimmer. He says, “Can I be a left handed or right handed swimmer? No you must use both arms.” Fitness is the combination of diet AND exercise together.
What I see a lot in the CrossFit community is the idea that if you work hard in the gym you can “reward” yourself with bad food at home. “What are you going to eat after this workout?” has been spoken many times in the walls of CrossFit gyms. That being said I will admit that I do enjoy not so optimal food on a weekly basis but the idea of working out to “deserve” enjoyable food is a very poor mindset. The misconception of many is that you must be miserable in order to be healthy or to have the elusive six-pack. This is simply not true. The path to a healthy diet is simple. Eat REAL food and know how much of that food you are eating. I will go into detail in future posts on how to track your food but a great place to start is with a $10 food scale from Amazon and the app myfitnesspal on your phone. With those two tools in your bag, you are well on your way to your physique and fitness goals.
If tracking your food seems a bit too far for you at the moment, that is ok too! You can still get amazing results by sticking to real food. Life is so much more than your body fat percentage. However, that is not an excuse to be unhealthy. Try meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar as best you can and enjoy yourself.
No matter how serious you get with your food it’s best to remember to not take things too seriously, both in and outside the gym. One slice of cake on your birthday or a couple red hot dogs on the fourth of July will not ruin everything you have worked hard for. You may find that doing this every once in a while might be what you need to feel fulfilled and ready to train the next day.
My last tip for the new and veteran CrossFitters out there, is to be patient. Results don't happen overnight and you wouldn't want them to. Learn to love the day-to-day grind of hard workouts and healthy eating. Share the journey with others. There is no finish line, so love running the race. There are a couple hundred people waiting to run right next to you…
If you are interested in starting CrossFit head to the link below to schedule your first class, it’s free!
- Zachary Hamilton